Sunday, May 8, 2011

Up Pompeii (UK, 1971)

This screen adaptation of the popular British TV series Up Pompeii takes place just before the Vesuvius erupts and buries all of Pompeii. The very loose plot centres around a visit by Nero and a plot to assassinate the Emperor. Documents get mixed up, wrong people get accused and everything ends in pieces when the city gets destroyed.

The film - just like the TV series - is full of double entendres, cheap jokes and titillation. In actual fact, the entire first half-hour is one ongoing orgy joke. ("Everything is laid out but the girls... and the men will see to that.") All the jokes are pretty much in line with similar material from the early 70s such as the Carry On... series or Hammer's own adaptations of On The Buses.

Words cannot easily convey the sheer daftness of Up Pompeii 's jokes. If you’re familiar with the TV series, you will know what to expect in the movie: The jokes are pretty much the same. So switch off your brain, have a few cans and Beware! You may just about start to enjoy these outrageous Shenanigans. It's a journey back in time.... not to ancient Rome, but to early 70s Britain before everything became PC.

Julie Ege is pretty much the only one of the cast not sporting a Cockney accent. Come to think of it: Her thick Scandinavian accent is probably closer to the historic truth than any of the Modern English on display in the film. Not that anyone of the filmmakers really lost some sleep over historical accuracy. In actual fact: The film is full of modernisms: girls wear satin nickers, characters complain about the cost of inflation etc.

Ege received a special mention during the film's opening credits: A sign of her popularity at the time. She plays Voluptia, wife of the pro-consul, and apparently "she has the makings of a pro, too." Although not appearing nude as such, some of her costumes leave very little to the imagination.

Madeline Smith plays Ludicrus Sextus' nymphomaniac daughter Erotica. The first time we see her in the movie she's in her father’s yard with her Ex-Lover and we are reminded that "X is Latin for 10". D'oh! She's got a memorable, short nude bathing scene midway through the movie.

Some of the male Up Pompeii cast has also appeared in Hammer movies. Bernard Bresslaw who plays Gorgo, the invincible gladiator, is most famous for starring in The Ugly Duckling (1959) - Hammer's "lost" comedic take on the Jeckyll & Hyde theme. He was also in I Only Arsked (1959) and Moon Zero Two (1969). Frankie Howerd played in Further Up The Creek (1958), Michael Hordern in Demons of the Mind (1972).

The last scene of the film shows the entire main cast as tourists being guided through modern Pompeii. All act astonished at some of the erotic pieces they discover on the ancient murals, but their inner thoughts reveal that not an awful lot has changed since then. They're still the lusty bunch they were before.

The success of Up Pompeii led to two "sequels" of sorts: Up The Chastity Belt (1971) and Up The Front (1972). The last one again featured Madeline Smith.

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